The 2014-15 submission was prepared in the months following the election of the Federal Coalition Government and focuses on Australia’s response to international refugee needs; community views on refugee and asylum policy changes that took place in 2012-13; and the new Coalition Government’s refugee policy and future plans.
International refugee needs
The number of people displaced by persecution, conflict, generalised violence and human rights violations increased significantly in 2012, largely due to conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Syria and the border area between Sudan and South Sudan. At the same time, the living conditions of many refugees remained as difficult as ever and millions remained in protracted situations with no prospect of a durable solution in the near future. The gulf between resettlement needs and available places remained wide, with just 89,007 refugees resettled in 2012 out of the 691,000 refugees the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has identified as being in priority need of resettlement. As challenging as global conditions for refugees were at the end of 2012, the situation became considerably worse in 2013, as the brutal civil war in Syria created refugee movement beyond anything seen for two decades.
In summarising the concerns raised by non-government organisations (NGOs) at the international level in 2013, the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) identified nine global challenges facing UNHCR, governments, NGOs and communities in responding to the needs of refugees:
- International support for Syria’s neighbours, with a focus on safeguarding the protection of and delivering assistance to refugees, mobilising financial support to meet needs in host countries and enhancing resettlement, family reunion and other transfers to third countries.
- Encouraging the wealthiest nations not to turn away from protecting refugees, responding to the trend towards restrictions on the entry of citizens of refugee-producing countries through tougher visa laws, tighter regulation of entry by air and efforts to reduce entry by land and sea.
- Providing prompt access to refugee status determination procedures, with asylum seekers in many countries struggling to get access to timely refugee status determination processes and UNHCR facing strong political pressure from some host governments to limit access to asylum.
- Building momentum to tackle protracted refugee situations, with access to safe repatriation, integration and resettlement opportunities remaining limited or virtually non-existent for many refugees in long-standing situations of displacement.
- Making refugee resettlement more effective as a strategic tool, given the gulf between resettlement needs and available places and the consequent need to use resettlement strategically to unlock protection solutions for refugees who will never be able to resettle.
- Improving physical security of the most vulnerable refugees, including refugees at risk of sexual and gender-based violence, women and girls forced into survival sex and same-sex attracted refugees at risk of ongoing harassment, violence and persecution.
- Preventing the slide towards insecurity in countries at greatest risk, particularly in Afghanistan (where many citizens fear a possible resurgence of the Taliban from 2014) and Pakistan (where growing instability is undermining the safety of religious and ethnic minorities).
- Developing alternatives to detention, building on the work of UNHCR and NGO networks in actively promoting the use of detention alternatives, building awareness of successful models operating in many countries and pointing out the advantages of these models.
- Promoting greater opportunities for refugees to support themselves, with refugees in many countries expressing deep frustration at the barriers they and their families face in getting access to appropriate education and to the right to work legally.
Many of these concerns were echoed by diaspora communities in Australia through community consultation processes conducted over the past 12 months by RCOA. Some raised ongoing concerns about conditions in countries of refugee origin, with long-standing persecution and insecurity continuing to drive displacement and limit opportunities for safe return. Representatives from several communities spoke of the pressure faced by some groups of refugees to repatriate despite ongoing fears of persecution or despite conditions not being conducive to safe and sustainable return. Others highlighted the untenable conditions faced by refugees in different parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, with many living in situations where they do not have a secure status (and are consequently at risk of arrest and detention), lack access to education, healthcare, livelihood opportunities and even basics such as food and water, face ongoing harassment, violence and exploitation (including through human trafficking and extortion) and experience difficulties in accessing UNHCR, refugee status determination processes and durable solutions.
Consultation participants saw the potential for Australia to play a significant role in responding to these and other global protection challenges. Many called on Australia to increase its resettlement intake in response to growing protection needs internationally and acknowledged the importance of the Australian Government continuing and expanding its funding to UNHCR. Participants also highlighted the important and potential role of Australia’s overseas aid program in addressing issues which drive forced displacement in countries of origin and alleviating the suffering of displaced populations in countries of asylum. A number of consultation participants called on the Australian Government to play a greater role in advocating internationally to prevent displacement and address protection issues, including through its role as a member of the United Nations Security Council. As in previous years, a number of consultation participants emphasised the need for greater cooperation on refugee protection in the Asia-Pacific region and saw the potential for Australia to play a lead role in developing this cooperative regional approach.
Feedback on what Australia’s resettlement priorities should be in the context of global needs was, unsurprisingly, mixed. While some community members felt that Australia’s resettlement priorities should align with UNHCR priorities, others cautioned about resettling new groups and advocated for the focus to continue on communities that have recently arrived so that communities can build a critical mass and families are able to be reunited. Many consultation participants called on the Australian Government to focus on the most vulnerable and in need of resettlement, namely women and children, those in protracted situations and minorities in particularly dangerous situations. Many people spoke about the need to focus resettlement efforts on refugees who were being forced on from countries of asylum where security is rapidly deteriorating (this related most commonly to refugees living in Syria). A number of consultation participants felt that Australia’s resettlement program should include a stated focus on family reunion and that the family members of refugee and humanitarian entrants in Australia who meet UNHCR criteria should be considered as a priority for resettlement.
For the past two years, RCOA has put forward a set of principles to guide Australia’s response to international refugee needs. We believe these principles remain as relevant as ever in the face of current global challenges:
- The need for resettlement to be made widely available as a durable solution.
- A focus on resettling the most vulnerable.
- An emphasis on maintaining family unity.
- The strategic use of resettlement to promote broader refugee protection.
- The need to balance resettlement needs in different regions.
- A coherent overarching government strategy for refugee protection.
Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program
During last year’s consultations, the expansion of Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program to 20,000 places was overwhelmingly endorsed by consultation participants, with the caveat that the increased arrival numbers be matched with careful planning and additional resources for settlement services. A year on, consultation participants continued their strong endorsement of an expanded Refugee and Humanitarian Program. Some service providers, however, reported that the concentration of much of the increase in arrivals in just a few months created challenges for their organisations.
Not a single consultation participant expressed support for the reduction in the size of the Refugee and Humanitarian Program to its former level of 13,750 places. Indeed, many consultation participants felt that the decision to reduce the size of the program was counterproductive and inappropriate at a time when forced displacement is on the rise and protection needs are becoming more acute. Others expressed concern about the impact of the decrease on Australia’s international reputation, including our capacity to work with the international community to resolve refugee protection needs. Several service providers highlighted the significant time, energy and resources that had been invested in expanding the capacity of their services and expressed frustration that these efforts would be squandered should the program be decreased.
In discussing the composition of the Refugee and Humanitarian Program, a number of participants suggested that the Government should explore options for resettling refugees under other streams of Australia’s migration program, so as to make more space available within the humanitarian stream. Participants also expressed concern about the declining proportion of refugees being resettled out of African nations, noting that resettlement needs in the region remain high and expressing a desire for Australia to restore regional balance to its resettlement program.
Participants continued to express mixed feelings about the Community Proposal Pilot, with the most commonly raised concern being the high cost of visa fees. Considerable concern was expressed that the program would benefit communities which are well-organised, have good connections and have significant financial resources and fundraising capacity, while new and emerging communities would be likely to miss out. Additional concerns related to the deduction of the 500 places available under the Pilot from the existing Refugee and Humanitarian Program, the processes for selecting and prioritising individuals for resettlement and access to settlement support services. However, the majority of negative feedback focused on the specific model of community proposal, not the concept of community proposal per se, and some participants highlighted potential benefits of the Pilot in providing opportunities for communities to play a greater role in resettlement and offering an alternative avenue to resettlement for communities who could afford the visa fees.
The lack of pathways to family reunion continues to be identified as one of the greatest challenges facing refugee and humanitarian entrants to Australia and came up in almost every consultation across the country. Issues raised echoed those of previous years, with community members and the services supporting them highlighting the profound psychological, economic and social impacts of family separation, the extremely limited family reunion options available, the systemic hurdles of existing family reunion pathways and the lack of migration advice to assist refugee and humanitarian entrants navigate visa application processes.
With only 503 visas granted under the Special Humanitarian Program (SHP) in 2012-13, this program has provided little hope of a viable pathway for any kind of family reunion in recent years. Community members in consultations across Australia expressed their continued frustration, disappointment and confusion at the ongoing limitations of the SHP in terms of eligibility and size. The majority of consultation feedback on family reunion this year concerned the experiences and limitations of refugee and humanitarian entrants seeking family reunion under the Family stream of the general Migration Program, with the major areas of concern being prohibitive or inflexible documentation requirements and the considerable costs involved. The restricted definition of “family” used by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) in assessing visas applications for the SHP or Family stream of the Migration Program was seen to further limit the already limited prospects of reunion. An emerging concern this year that was raised in a number of consultations was in regards to difficulties liaising with overseas processing offices in relation to Family stream visa applications, including inconsistencies across posts, poor experiences with locally engaged staff, lengthy and unnecessary delays and processes that were incompatible with the circumstances of displaced people.
The level of concern about the general direction of Australia’s asylum policies was considerably higher at this year’s consultations than in previous years. These concerns primarily related to the sidelining of protection in the bid to implement punitive, deterrence-based policies and the failure to consider the broader factors influencing the movement of asylum seekers towards Australia. Participants lamented the overwhelming focus of Australia’s policies on border security, deterrence and punitive measures at the expense of protection, with some questioning whether Australia still had a genuine commitment to the protection of refugees.
The feedback on Australia’s current approach to asylum policy focused on: questions related to the current state of the global protection environment and the broader factors influencing the movement of asylum seekers towards Australia; the public debate and political rhetoric about asylum; the experiences of asylum seekers living in the Australian community; the continuation of offshore processing in Nauru and Papua New Guinea (PNG); the changes to the refugee status determination process; the re-introduction of Temporary Protection Visas; children and young asylum seekers in Australia; and immigration detention.
The general lack of understanding among Australians about the global refugee situation and the reasons why people seek asylum in Australia was highlighted as an obstacle to developing support for protection-focused policies. The dearth of positive political leadership was seen as not only failing to address this lack of understanding but also actively perpetuating myths, misinformation and negative messages about refugees and asylum seekers.
One of the most significant issues of concern was the Government’s use of the term “illegal” to describe asylum seekers arriving by boat and its directive to government staff and contractors to do likewise. There was general consensus among consultation participants that the use of this term was misleading, unfairly demonised asylum seekers and represented an attempt to reinforce negative attitudes. Participants put forward a number of suggestions for addressing the negativity and politicisation of the public and political debate. Public education and awareness-raising initiatives, including promoting success stories and the positive contributions made by people from refugee backgrounds, were seen as crucial to addressing the lack of understanding about refugee issues and breaking down myths and misinformation.
Much of the feedback from RCOA’s consultations focused on the experiences of asylum seekers in the community and the impacts of Australia’s policies on them. The issues raised affecting asylum seekers in the community included: the right to work; income payments; housing; education and English language training; meaningful activities and engagement; access to services; family separation; and the impact of government policies and practices.
As a majority of asylum seekers in the community were denied the right to work, they faced prolonged and negative impacts on their health, safety and well-being. There was collective concern among consultation participants that, without the ability to earn a living, people would be left vulnerable to exploitation and corruption. Without work rights, asylum seekers were left to rely on meagre income support payments (if eligible) and the assistance of charities and community members. This forced destitution had flow-on effects in relation to their housing needs – as all asylum seekers had to compete in the private rental market – and their participation in the Australian community in education, English language learning and meaningful activities like volunteering. RCOA heard from agencies and community members about how asylum seekers had limited access to services, including specific asylum seeker-centred programs as well as the broader state-based services in health, housing and life-skills.
The most troubling feedback that RCOA received about asylum seekers in the community related to family separation and the impact of Government policy decisions, including the long delays and related uncertainty in protection claim assessments, the expiry of Bridging Visas and the new Code of Behaviour attached to visas only for asylum seekers who arrived by boat.
In relation to offshore processing of asylum seekers, consultation participants again raised serious concerns about the capacity of Nauru and PNG to provide adequate protection and support to people seeking protection; the conditions in offshore processing facilities and their impacts on the health and well-being of asylum seekers; and the processes – or lack thereof – for assessing asylum claims and providing durable solutions to people found to be refugees.
Participants raised a range of concerns relating to Australia’s refugee status determination (RSD) process, including the proposed withdrawal of access to the Refugee Review Tribunal, the proposed implementation of a “fast-track” assessment process and the denial of access to RSD through the “enhanced screening” process. The primary concern raised by consultation participants in relation to RSD, however, was the Government’s proposal to withdraw access to the Immigration Advice and Application Assistance Scheme (IAAAS) for asylum seekers who arrived in Australia without a visa. Participants highlighted the complexity of the visa application and status determination process and the difficulties asylum seekers would face in navigating this process in the absence of professional advice and application assistance.
At the time of the consultations, the Australian Government had reintroduced Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs), a move universally opposed by participants in this year’s consultations. Not a single participant expressed the view that the reintroduction of TPVs was a positive or constructive policy decision. Many participants expressed concern that the conditions imposed on TPV holders would hamper their ability to recover from experiences of trauma and settle successfully in Australia, citing the outcomes of Australia’s previous TPV policy. The impact of these conditions on mental health and well-being was viewed as a particularly critical factor in this regard. Temporary status, uncertainty about the future, anxiety about being sent home, separation from family members and limited access to support services were all cited as factors which would undermine the mental health of TPV holders.
In relation to children and young people living in Australia and seeking protection, there was considerable concern for unaccompanied minors and their ability to navigate not only the protection system but also the transition to adulthood without the support of family or intensive program assistance. Many consultation participants identified the policies for children and young people as compounding the trauma of the refugee journey. For children and young people separated from family, consultation participants were worried about their ability to live safely in the community and navigate Australia’s systems. For children as part of families, there was concern that the parents’ trauma and anxiety over their future was having a direct effect on the welfare of the children.
Immigration detention was a major issue for many of the people consulted, as there was concern that few people had been released from detention since the September 2013 Federal election. The prolonged time in detention – for children and adults alike – was as seen as dangerous and in contradiction to the progress made in 2012 to release people from detention after initial identity, health and security checks. As in years past, there was considerable concern for the people detained for several years – with no prospect for release – as a result of their adverse security assessment from ASIO.
At this year’s community consultations, a large amount of feedback was given on settlement challenges, service responses and recent changes to the machinery of government. While settlement issues were not a specific focus in the themes and questions that informed these consultations, the sheer volume of feedback highlights the ongoing challenges refugee and humanitarian entrants face (regardless of how they made their journey here) in rebuilding their lives and settling in. It also suggests that, while much of the public debate and policy focus remains on asylum issues, much still could be done to ensure refugee and humanitarian entrants are able to plan, participate, connect and succeed in their new lives in Australia. The key settlement challenges that were spoken about in a number of locations and by different people focused on employment, education, housing, health and particular challenges facing young people, women at risk and people with a disability.
Recurring themes in the consultations included the need for better coordination and planning of settlement services across different levels of government, the untapped potential of regional settlement locations and concerns about funding challenges. In particular, there was concern that demand for Settlement Grants Program (SGP) services would increase significantly as the Refugee Program entrants issued visas as part of the program expansion in 2012-13 are exited from the Humanitarian Settlement Services (HSS) program and due to the increasing number of people granted onshore permanent Protection Visas who will have received limited or no HSS support. A concern was also raised about the lack of eligibility to settlement services for people granted onshore permanent Protection Visas. Finally, consultation participants raised a range of questions, comments and concerns relating to the changes to machinery of government after the Federal election.
International refugee needs
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government develop, publish and implement a framework for Australia’s refugee resettlement program based on:
- priority resettlement to the most vulnerable refugees, including women at risk, the most culturally isolated groups of refugees (e.g. small groups of African refugees in South and South-East Asia) and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) refugees;
- the promotion of family unity;
- the strategic use of resettlement; and
- the consideration of global resettlement needs in the development of regional allocations.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government:
- abandon the proposed reduction of Australia’s overseas aid program, in light of its crucial role in assisting forcibly displaced people;
- work collaboratively with countries of asylum in the Asia-Pacific region to develop sustainable programs of support for the protection of refugees and asylum seekers within their borders and allocate additional resources for this purpose; and
- provide additional funding to UNHCR, given the increasing numbers of displaced people worldwide and UNHCR’s critical role in coordinating humanitarian responses to displacement.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government, in its capacity as a member of the UN Security Council, provide positive leadership in international action to:
- address the drivers of forced displacement and respond to protection needs in countries of asylum, with a particular focus on refugees living in protracted situations and/or facing serious risks to their lives and freedom; and
- develop a comprehensive response to the growing Syrian refugee crisis.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government work with other governments to apply positive diplomatic pressure to the Burmese Government to address the conflicts which are resulting in continuing displacement in different parts of the country, particularly in Rakhine and Kachin states.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government, in consultation with UNHCR and non-government organisations working with refugees, develop a strategy for how its diplomatic and aid efforts can be targeted to support incremental improvements in the protection and support of refugees and asylum seekers in South-East Asia and South Asia, as part of a long-term vision for an Asia-Pacific regional agreement on refugee protection.
Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government return the Refugee and Humanitarian Program to its 2012-13 level of 20,000 places annually, but delinked from onshore Protection Visa grants, as an appropriate contribution to increasing numbers of refugees worldwide and identified priority resettlement needs.
In view of the pressing need for resettlement from Africa, RCOA recommends that the Australian Government ensure that the 2014-15 regional target for resettlement from Africa be set at no lower than 25% of the offshore program.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government conduct a review Australia’s migration program to identify opportunities for enabling refugees to enter Australia through the skilled migration and family migration programs.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government conduct a review of processes for collecting, recording and amending personal information on travel and identity documentation granted to humanitarian entrants prior to their resettlement in Australia, with a view to identifying strategies to enhance accuracy and simplify processes for requesting corrections.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government revise the Community Proposal Pilot and any ongoing program which follows it through:
- Reducing the proposed visa application charge to a level more affordable for community organisations and exploring ways of providing incentives for sponsors who work together to assist newly arrived refugees towards financial self-sufficiency.
- Providing access to a no-interest loans scheme for community organisations seeking to sponsor people for resettlement under the Pilot.
- Delinking the Pilot and any future program from the existing Refugee and Humanitarian Program.
- Developing clear criteria and guidelines to govern the selection and prioritisation of cases and standards of settlement support for those resettled under the Pilot.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government overhaul the family reunion options for refugee and humanitarian entrants to Australia by developing a “Humanitarian Family Reunion Program” that is separate from the Refugee and Humanitarian Program and the General Migration Program. RCOA recommends that this Humanitarian Family Reunion Program be developed in consultation with former refugee community members and organisations, peak bodies and relevant service providers.
In the absence of a separate Humanitarian Family Reunion Program, RCOA recommends that the Australian Government enhance humanitarian entrants’ access to family reunion through the Migration Program by:
- waiving application fees or at least introducing application fee concessions for humanitarian entrant proposers;
- providing access to free or low-cost migration advice;
- introducing flexibility in documentation requirements for people from refugee backgrounds;
- reviewing eligibility requirements that effectively exclude applicants from refugee backgrounds; and
- resourcing the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s offshore and Australian processing offices to identify and consider applications from humanitarian entrant proposers separately from applications from non-humanitarian proposers.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government review its definition of “family” to bring it into line with the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook’s definition (which includes a broader understanding of dependency, including unmarried adult children facing persecution).
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government increase staffing levels, training and other resources in critical overseas posts in order to support both SHP and General Migration Program applications.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government review how family reunion options are communicated to refugees before they arrive in Australia, examining what information could be provided in first language at the time of application and how this information is reinforced through the Australian Cultural Orientation (AUSCO) program.
RCOA recommends that, as a matter of urgency, the Australian Government give all Protection Visa holders access to all family reunion options to enable families separated by persecution and conflict to be reunited, with priority given to family reunion for young people who arrived as unaccompanied minors.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government enter into dialogue with UNHCR about establishing a process for identifying refugee families that are seeking reunification, facilitating assessment and registration in countries of asylum (particularly Pakistan and Thailand) and prioritising them for referral for resettlement under Australia’s offshore program.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government increase short-term funding to registered Migration Agents funded through the SGP to support the reassessment of SHP split family applications in the most efficient, fair and timely fashion. RCOA also recommends that consideration be given to increasing the overall amount of funding allocated for migration advice within the SGP in the upcoming funding round.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government streamline and consolidate existing support programs for asylum seekers into a holistic, consistent and client-driven service delivery framework, based on the following core principles:
- a central focus on the needs of the asylum seeker;
- equal access to services and support regardless of status or mode of arrival;
- maximising social engagement through providing support with orientation, English language tuition, education and employment;
- a focus on early intervention to ensure the best outcomes for asylum seekers;
- safeguards to prevent destitution and ensure resolution of all cases;
- basing support services on existing service delivery platforms (such as Medicare and Centrelink) where possible, to avoid unnecessary administration and duplication; and
- regular communication and sharing of information among all departments, agencies, organisations and communities working with asylum seekers.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government review and streamline transition processes for refugees and asylum seekers moving through various stages of status assessment, with a particular focus on supporting vulnerable groups such as long-term detainees and unaccompanied minors.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government take steps to enhance communication between government departments, service providers and individual refugees and asylum seekers on current and planned policies and their implications.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government, as a matter of urgency, renew the Bridging Visas of asylum seekers living in the community.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government grant work rights to asylum seekers and enable them to have access to employment support services, to maximise the opportunities for asylum seekers to be self-supporting while their status is resolved.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government, in consultation with relevant service providers, develop a strategy to support capacity-building among groups providing support to asylum seekers in the community.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government abandon its unnecessary and duplicative new Code of Behaviour for Bridging Visa E holders and refrain from imposing sanctions (such as a reduction in income support or re-detention) on asylum seekers without due process.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government:
- provide further information about the proposed mutual obligation scheme for Bridging Visa and Temporary Protection Visa holders in receipt of income support; and
- adopt a reasonable and flexible approach to implementation of the proposed mutual obligation scheme which avoids imposing conditions that are unrealistic, unnecessarily onerous or which may interfere with successful settlement in Australia.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government reverse its decision to reduce Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme payments for young people aged 18 to 21 and ensure that they have full access to the Community Assistance Support Program.
RCOA recommends that:
- meaningful educational opportunities be made available for asylum seekers in closed and community detention and asylum seekers living in the community on Bridging Visas; and
- English language classes for asylum seekers be expanded to 510 hours, commensurate with the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) to ensure that asylum seekers can communicate effectively while living in the Australian community.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government abandon offshore processing of asylum seekers arriving by boat. Should the above recommendation not be implemented, RCOA recommends that the Australian Government:
- work with the Governments of Nauru and PNG to:
- end the arbitrary and indefinite detention of asylum seekers in offshore processing facilities;
- expedite the processing of asylum claims and address identified deficiencies in the Refugee Status Determination process, including those related to information for applicants, legal advice and representation;
- address shortcomings in the physical conditions in offshore processing facilities, particularly in relation to appropriate accommodation and access to healthcare;
- establish independent advisory bodies in both countries to monitor status determination and resettlement processes and conditions in offshore facilities; and
- develop clear guidelines to govern the treatment and care of asylum seekers subject to offshore processing, in line with international human rights standards, and establish mechanisms through which asylum seekers can seek resolution of, or redress for, any breaches of these guidelines.
- cease the transfer of all children and young people to offshore processing centres; and
- revise the current pre-transfer assessment process to enable to identification and exemption from transfer of individuals who are potentially vulnerable, whose needs cannot be met offshore and/or whose well-being would be compromised by transfer to an offshore processing facility.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government abandon the Regional Resettlement Arrangement with PNG, in light of the inability of PNG to provide sustainable protection and support to refugees on a permanent basis.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government restore a single statutory system of onshore processing for all asylum seekers, regardless of their mode of arrival.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government, as a matter of urgency, recommence the processing of asylum claims in Australia.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government ensure that all asylum seekers are eligible to apply for assistance under the Immigration Advice and Application Assistance Scheme, regardless of their mode of arrival.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government abandon the reintroduction of Temporary Protection Visas and convert Temporary Protection Visas granted to date into permanent Protection Visas.
Should the above recommendation not be implemented, RCOA recommends that the Australian Government grant Temporary Protection Visa holders access to:
- the full suite of settlement services available to permanent humanitarian visa holders, including English language tuition;
- health, education and social support services at a level commensurate with permanent residents of Australia;
- opportunities to sponsor family members for resettlement in Australia and to travel overseas with right of return, in line with opportunities accorded to permanent humanitarian visa holders; and
- the opportunity to apply for permanent residency upon expiry of their Temporary Protection Visa.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government amend the Immigration Guardianship of Children Act 1946 to remove the Minister for Immigration’s status as legal guardian of unaccompanied asylum seeker children and legislate an alternative guardian held at a Federal ministerial level.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government, in consultation with State and Territory Governments:
- develop a national strategy for the care and support of unaccompanied minors; and
- explore options for delaying the discharge from care of asylum seeker young people aged between 18 and 21 who have ongoing care requirements.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government, in recognition of the proven benefits of community-based alternatives over closed immigration detention:
- use immigration detention only as a matter of last resort and give priority to finding community-based alternatives for all asylum seekers currently in closed immigration detention;
- refrain from re-detaining asylum seekers awaiting a resolution of their status unless absolutely necessary on the grounds of health or security risks; and
- ensure that appropriate services, living conditions, healthcare and activities are provided to all people who remain in closed detention.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government release all children from closed detention as a matter of urgency, including unaccompanied minors held on Christmas Island.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government abide by its legislative requirement to ensure all children within its jurisdiction are enrolled in school, including children held in Western Australian and Christmas Island immigration detention facilities.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government amend its contracts with service providers in immigration detention facilities to ensure all critical information is recorded and reported to Parliament on a regular basis.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government respond to the findings of the UN Human Rights Committee and work towards resolving the situation of refugees subject to adverse security assessments by:
- Establishing a statutory review mechanism for security assessments made in relation to Protection Visa applicants; and
- Exploring alternative community-based arrangements to prolonged indefinite detention.
RCOA recommends that the Australian Government ensure that its asylum and immigration detention policies and processes enable families to remain together and separated family members to reunite. To this end, RCOA recommends amending the current practices of:
- Separating pregnant women from spouses and other children when transferring from Christmas Island or Nauru to the mainland for perinatal care;
- Separating family members to different offshore processing centres depending on date of arrival; and
- Maintaining the separation of family members across offshore processing centres and on mainland Australia, both in closed detention and in the community.